South West Water appoints invasive non-native species specialist

It claims to be the first UK water company to appoint such a role

South West Water has appointed Kate Hills as an ecologist dedicated to invasive non-native species. 

Hills, who has worked for the company as an ecologist and environmental planner since 2008, took up her new role earlier this month.

The water company said it has created the post in response to growing threats from invasive species arriving from outside the UK.

Examples include Japanese knotweed and New Zealand pigmy weed, which have the potential to cause structural damage to water infrastructure including weirs and treatment works, choke waterways and disrupt native ecosystems.

They also create health and safety issues for maintenance and recreation, particularly at reservoirs.

Hills said: “Animals and plants from all over the world have been introduced to Britain by people. Most are harmless, but 10-15 per cent become invasive harming the environment and our wildlife, impacting on the economy, or even posing a risk to our health and the way we live.”

She added: “Biosecurity is a huge challenge for the water industry. Here in the South West, Japanese knotweed, Himalayan balsam, giant hogweed, America signal crayfish and zebra mussels among others have the potential to damage our environment or us if we don’t act to minimise their spread and impact. 

“At the moment we believe other species such as the killer shrimp are not present in the region, but it is important that we stay ahead of the game and remain vigilant.”

South West Water’s managing director, Dr Stephen Bird, met biosecurity minister Lord Gardiner at a reception at the House of Lords last month to celebrate the work of the Check Clean Dry campaign. It aims to stop the spread of invasive species such as floating pennywort and water primrose and South West Water was the first of eight water companies to support the national initiative.

Gardiner said: “Invasive species threaten the survival of our country’s native plants and animals and cost the economy at least £1.8 billion a year. The Check, Clean, Dry campaign plays a key role in raising awareness of these threats; preventing new arrivals and stopping the spread of these species. It is great to see water companies supporting this programme to protect the future of our native species.”

Hills represents all water companies on the GB Non-Native Species Secretariat England Working Group. She also helped set up two new groups last year to try to tackle the problem of invasive species on a county scale, Cornwall Invasive Species Forum and Devon Invasive Species Initiative (DISI).

Both groups originated at the first South West Invasive Species Forum, organised by South West Water in June 2016. A second conference took place in March 2017.

She added: “Promoting awareness and partnership working is the only way to tackle invasive non-native species. These species are a national problem, but the South West is taking strong regional action and I’m proud to play my part.” 

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